Study: Charters forcing public schools to compete and improve

13 Aug

Education tends to be populated by idealists and dreamers who are true believers and who think of what is possible. Otherwise, why would one look at children in second grade and think one of those children could win the Nobel Prize or be president? Maybe, that is why education as a discipline is so prone to fads and the constant quest for the “Holy Grail” or the next, next magic bullet. There is no one answer, there is what works for a particular population of kids. Geoffrey Canada is an exceptional educator and he has stuck his neck out there. He was profiled in “Waiting for Superman.”

The words of truth are always paradoxical.
Lao Tzu

Sharon Otterman reported in New York Times about some of the challenges faced by Mr. Canada’s schools, The Harlem Children’s Zone.
In Lauded Harlem Schools Have Their Own Problems Otterman reported:

Criticism WILL occur if you are doing something that is not inline with others’ expectations. It IS going to cost to educate children out of the cycle of poverty. Still, that means that society should not make the attempt.

There is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education. There is only what works to produce academic achievement in each population of children. That is why school choice is so important.

Mary Ann Zehr reported in Education Week about the sharing of “best practices” between charters and public schools. In the article, Regular Public Schools Start to Mimic Charters Zehr wrote:

Collaborations popping up across the country between charter and traditional public schools show promise that charter schools could fulfill their original purpose of becoming research-and-development hothouses for public education, champions of charters say.
But both supporters and skeptics of charter schools agree that so far the cooperative efforts are not widespread nor are most of them very deep.
The U.S. Department of Education spent $6.7 million in fiscal 2009 on grants to states for charters to share what they’ve learned with other schools. It is now conducting a feasibility study on ways to support the spread of promising charter school practices, said Scott D. Pearson, the department’s acting director of the charter schools program.
One idea being explored, he said, is to establish a prize for exemplary collaborations….
“There’s not a lot to share. Charter schools are a lot like [regular] public schools,” said Joan Devlin, the senior associate director of the educational issues department at the American Federation of Teachers.
But others, such as the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, believe charter schools do have some distinctive practices that should be shared with traditional public schools. The alliance hosted a conference in September that featured 26 “promising cooperative practices” between the two kinds of schools. Examples included a Minnesota Spanish-immersion charter school working with a local district to create a Spanish-language-maintenance program, and California charter school and districts teaming up on a teacher-induction program.
“We were trying to move past the whole charter-war debates and move to a more productive place,” said Stephanie Klupinski, the alliance’s vice president of government and public affairs.

Lincoln High School in Tacoma is highlighted in Zehr’s article:

Borrowing Best Practices
Lincoln High School, in the 29,000-student Tacoma district in Washington state, is also seeing test scores rise after borrowing some practices from charter schools, according to Patrick Erwin, a co-principal with Greg Eisnaugle of the high school.
About 350 of the 1,500 students in the high school attend the Lincoln Center, a school-within-a-school started more than two years ago that implements practices Mr. Erwin says were picked up from the well-known Harlem Children’s Zone, Green Dot, and Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools. The Lincoln Center operates from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is in session for two Saturdays each month. It also uses standards that are more rigorous than the state’s 10th grade standards, for example, and requires teachers to apply for jobs, selecting only those who have shown success in the classroom, according to Mr. Erwin.
He said the school has an agreement with its 15 teachers, in addition to their union contract, to work extra hours, for which they receive extra compensation.

See, School in a School: Lincoln’s bold experiment

Melissa Lazarín wrote in the report, “Charting New Territory” for the Center for American Progress:

The brief also summarizes early findings and perspectives on district-charter turnarounds offered by districts, charters, and others. Their recommendations and lessons learned are not meant to be comprehensive but they do offer valuable insight for districts, charter leaders, and policymakers interested in district-charter collaborations to turnaround schools.
For example, early collaborations between districts and charters suggest that both entities should define the parameters related to charter autonomy early in the partnership. Most charters find it necessary to have full authority over staffing, the school’s budget, the school calendar, and curricular programming to be an effective
school turnaround operator. In addition, other areas should be negotiated early on, such as common district concerns related to enrollment, discipline, and parent engagement.
District and state conditions can foster strong turnaround collaborations with charter operators. District leadership in bringing in nontraditional providers of teacher and school leader talent to staff up turnaround schools, and state assistance in developing performance contracts for district-charter partnerships can
help fast-track district and charter partnerships to turnaround some of the most troubled schools.
It is not the intention of this paper to advocate for a particular turnaround model for high schools. States, districts, school leaders, parents, and other community stakeholders are better suited to decide which of the turnaround models outlined in the federal school improvement program are most appropriate for their school.
Districts and charters that do partner to turn around high schools, however, may find the lessons learned from these early collaborations instructive….
Download this report (pdf)
Download the introduction and summary (pdf)
Read the full report in your web browser
Video: Charter School Turnaround

Marc J. Holley, Anna J. Egalite, and Martin F. Lueken wrote in the Education Next article, Competition with Charters Motivates Districts:

But in order for this to happen, districts must first recognize the need to compete for students and then make efforts to attract those students, who now have the chance to go elsewhere. Since 2007, enrollment in charter schools has jumped from 1.3 million to 2 million students, an increase of 59 percent. The school choice movement is gaining momentum, but are districts responding to the competition? In this study we investigate whether district officials in a position to influence policy and practice have begun to respond to competitive pressure from school choice in new ways. Specifically, we probe whether district officials in urban settings across the country believe they need to compete for students. If they do, what is the nature of their response?
A small number of studies and numerous media reports have attempted to capture the reactions of public school officials to these new threats to their enrollments and revenues. A few reports of obstructionist behavior by districts stand out and have been chronicled in these pages by Joe Williams (“Games Charter Opponents Play,” features, Winter 2007) and Nelson Smith (“Whose School Buildings Are They, Anyway?” features, Fall 2012). Yet our evidence suggests that the dynamics described in Williams’s report of guerilla turf wars may be evolving in many locations to reflect new political circumstances and the growing popularity of a burgeoning charter sector.
To explore the influence of school choice on district policy and practice, we scoured media sources for evidence of urban public-school districts’ responses to charter competition. Our express purpose was to catalog levels of competition awareness and types of responses by public school officials and their representatives. Our search retrieved more than 8,000 print and online media reports in the past five years (since the 2007 Williams article) from 12 urban locations in the United States. We then reviewed minutes from school board meetings, district web sites, and other district artifacts to verify if, in fact, the practices and policies described in media reports have occurred.
We selected cities according to specific criteria. We chose three urban districts with high percentages of minority and low-income students (at least 60 percent on both counts) in each region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West). In addition, districts in our sample needed to have a minimum of 6 percent of students in choice schools, the level Caroline Hoxby identified as a threshold above which districts could reasonably be expected to respond to competitive pressure (see “Rising Tide,” research, Winter 2001). Finally, we sought to include cities across the range of choice-school market shares within each geographic region, so long as they were above the 6 percent threshold (see Figure 1)….
The ground war between charter schools and their opponents described by Joe Williams has begun to shift. As the charter sector continues to expand, some of its competitors appear to be changing strategy. Where school districts once responded with indifference, symbolic gestures, or open hostility, we are starting to see a broadening of responses, perhaps fueled by acceptance that the charter sector will continue to thrive, or by knowledge that many charters are providing examples of ways to raise academic achievement.
Traditional public schools are aware of the threats posed by alternative education providers, but they are analyzing the moves made by competitors and demonstrating that they may have the savvy to reflect, replicate, experiment, and enter into partnerships with school choice providers. This evidence suggests that while bureaucratic change may often be slow, it may be a mistake to underestimate the capacity of these bureaucratic institutions to reform, adapt, and adjust in light of changing environments.

The conclusion of the study was that charters were forcing public schools to compete in the marketplace. There is no one approach that works in every situation, there is only what works to address the needs of a particular population of children.

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